2 killed, 32 hurt in New Hampshire circus tent collapse

LANCASTER, N.H. -- New Hampshire's fire marshal said Tuesday it wasn't clear why a circus operator proceeded with a show minutes after the National Weather Service put out a severe storm warning, as 60 mph winds collapsed the tent, killing two spectators and sending about 32 others to hospitals.

Bill Degnan said it's the responsibility of the circus operator to monitor the weather conditions. The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning at about 5:23 p.m. Monday. The show started seven minutes later at the Lancaster Fairgrounds, about 90 miles north of Concord. The storm blew threw at about 5:46 p.m., with about 100 people inside the tent.

"I see these very large metal poles that are in the ground and go through the top of the tent; I see them starting to come out of the ground and fly up, into the air toward us," witness Heidi Medeiros, attending with her 3-year-old son, told WMUR-TV. She said 10 to 30 seconds later, the pole slammed onto the bleacher where she and her son had been sitting.

Degnan said he had spoken to the operator, Sarasota, Florida-based Walker International Events. He said they were "waiting for counsel." Walker has not responded to phone and email messages left by The Associated Press.

Degnan said no request was made to state or local officials for an inspection of the tent. If they were notified, they would have done one, he said.

Degnan said he didn't know if local officials knew or should have known the show was taking place. He said the show would have required a "place of assembly permit," but to the best of his knowledge, one was not sought.

He said those questions would be part of the state's investigation, as well as the tent's setup, and a building and fire code assessment. The National Weather Service also was helping to determine what type of wind passed through the area.

"We all this morning have heavy hearts," Gov. Maggie Hassan told WMUR-TV earlier. "We lost two lives - a father and a daughter - at an event that was supposed to be fun."

The names of the victims have not been released, pending notification of family. Degnan said autopsies were being conducted Tuesday.

At least some of the injured sent to hospitals have been discharged. Mike Barwell, a spokesman for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, which would have accepted more seriously injured patients, said it took in two people, an adult and a 5-year-old boy. He said he had no information on the adult, but that the boy was in fair condition Tuesday.

Degnan has said it was the first time his agency had investigated a tent collapse. He asked that anyone with images or video of the event contact his office.

The circus was scheduled to head to Bradford, Vermont, for shows on Tuesday and Wednesday, but canceled, state police said.

The collapse came a day after one man died and more than a dozen were injured when a tent where people had sought shelter during a brief storm blew off its moorings and fell on some of the crowd at a festival in a Chicago suburb. The annual celebration known as the Prairie Fest had attracted about 5,000 people when the tent collapsed.

The popular Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago's Grant Park briefly shut down Sunday afternoon due to the weather, then resumed less than an hour later. Organizers ended the final day of the festival 30 minutes early Sunday night when another storm hit the area.

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Associated Press writer Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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